Monday, 25 January 2016

Partnerships are the key ingredient for apprenticeship provision

For many years, apprenticeships were the gold standard for people looking to start their careers.

This coming together of business and education as a partnership launched hundreds of thousands of successful careers over the course of centuries, with countless tradesmen learning their technical craft while working ‘on the job’. 

But as time changed, the apprenticeship fell out of fashion, with learners instead opting to take a university driven pathway rather than a technical, vocational one.

Now though, as the UK economy begins to re-balance, and there’s a realisation that actually, we need the real trade-craft which the apprenticeship system used to provide, it has become a central government ambition for this pathway to grow once again.
Automotive apprentices hone their skills
That ambition has been given a target – three million new apprenticeship places to be created by 2020. It’s not going to be a simple order to fulfill, but the benefits of moving back to a system where apprenticeships are considered a high quality alternative to university are all too clear.

For a start, they’re real jobs for those who get an apprenticeship – a way for these individuals to earn a wage while they build up their skills base. It’s an investment in our young, with the deal struck that they actually need to get out there and participate, working to grow their abilities.

Apprenticeships also offer a way for industry to define and grow the skills it requires. Some sectors – such as construction – are in real need of fresh blood to continue growing, and apprenticeships are the perfect way to help start meeting this shortage.  There are some serious benefits; not just for students, but also for businesses.

But there are still a range of challenges faced by those involved in delivering apprenticeships.
For FE providers, the big challenge is clear – building the strong relationships and partnerships with business that’ll allow them to ensure they’re able to help deliver the right skills for the local economy.

The best people to help FE colleges navigate the skills needed in the local economy are local businesses – in fact, that’s the only community which can accurately tell education providers what’s wanted. While most FE providers are likely to already have close links with many of the businesses in their communities, it’s growing in importance to build those partnerships. They’ll help the education sector understand what works, and what doesn’t for business, as well as what skills are needed. 

Government is working hard to help nurture this relationship building and recently announced its new Apprenticeship Delivery Board. The board brings together a range of business leaders to help drive the Government ambition forward. However it has come in for criticism due to a key omission in the board’s makeup – a sector leader who represents small and medium sized businesses. In east Kent we already know that makes up one of the big drivers of local economies, so my College is already working in partnership with the SME community. I would hope that the Government will find a way to include this valuable section of the economy.

What the creation of the board does mark is a move in the right direction – the creation of a holistic strategy which starts bringing business leaders, local economies and education providers together. And that’s exactly what’s needed.

So, although we’re well into the month of January, and New Year celebrations are but a distant memory, one of my wishes for 2016 is a greater coming together of industry and FE so that together, we can improve the outcomes for students, communities and the local economy.

East Kent College is always looking for business partners, so if you would be interested in working with us, please get in touch with the College.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Not just another brick in the wall – the wider benefits of social action

So it’s official; social action projects – defined as practical actions in the service of others to create positive change – not only do good for the community, but also for the young people who take part in them.

Recent analysis of youth social action projects – funded by The Cabinet Office – has shown unequivocally that those who take part in social action projects develop some of the most important skills they need to succeed in later life. Some of those programmes which were analysed were organised by my College.

Students take part in the 'Brush up Broadstairs' project
The research found that young people taking part in these projects improve a range of skills. These included their empathy (up 8 per cent), problem solving abilities, co-operation, ‘grit’ and community spiritedness (up 9 per cent).

These are all things which – few would disagree – have a real world impact, not just on the local community of the young people taking part, but also on the local economies. Of course measures like ‘grit’ may well be somewhat subjective, but the mere fact that the data suggests those who took part in social action projects had more of it can only be a positive thing when it comes to getting employed, and staying employed. Those who took part in social action also had a far more positive outlook on life, with far lower levels of anxiety reported.

The data also highlighted another positive for young people looking for jobs – interviewees were found to be 10 per cent more likely to be hired if they had taken part in some sort of social action project. Volunteering was also found to triple a young person’s chances of getting that all important interview itself.

Charity cookery on the Broadstairs Campus
So what does all of this mean for further education? It’s fairly obvious really – if we want to improve the outcomes of our young people, sometimes it’s more important to get out of the labs, the workshops and the office spaces, and into the real world where they can make something better.
My College takes this seriously. We’re driven by improving the outcomes of our students. The obvious benefit for students taking part in social action projects has led us to commit six weeks of the academic year as ‘progress weeks’. Students then get to tackle a range of projects which help their local community, while also making them a more rounded and capable individual – what I believe FE should be doing at all times.

So if you’re an education sector leader, ensuring those in your care take part in social action can pay off not just for the local community which is helped, but also for the student themselves. That’s surely what we all want to achieve.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Partnership projects on the cards after catch-up with MP

Today I had the pleasure of hosting South Thanet’s MP, Craig Mackinlay at our Broadstairs Campus. It isn’t the first time Craig has come to the campus, but it was great to have the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss partnership working on future projects. 

Further education was recently recognised by a report from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills as having a significant impact on getting people into work – something which our employability department are working on across all three of our campuses. 

As Craig has a clear interest in this area – as a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee – I feel that there could be real opportunities for us to work with him on improving outcomes for those out of work.

My meeting with MP Craig Mackinlay

I also got to update him on many of the different things which the College is working on. As a key Government ambition, apprenticeships are one of the key areas which we are trying to grow. 

Statistics released recently by Government showed that despite a drop in apprenticeships started in the South East, the constituencies in which East Kent College works had seen solid growth. 

Folkestone and Hythe saw the highest number of new starts across the county last year, with 1090 new apprentices starting – up from 960 the year before. Dover and Thanet also saw considerable growth – testament to the great work our apprenticeship team is doing to offer more of these opportunities. It’s certainly an area which I’m eager to see continual future growth in, and one of the prime opportunities for East Kent College over the next few years. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Skills Minister gives FE opportunities, but no guarantees

The last few years have been something of a rollercoaster ride for FE, with austerity taking its toll on many colleges across the country. But just before the festive break, the sector got what appeared to be an early Christmas present in the form of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA)settlement letter.

The settlement itself - which came from Skills Minister Nick Boles - put paid to many of FE’s greatest fears over future funding. And while it’s far from a utopia of endless cash, in my view it offers the sector some real opportunities with a stated growth of 36.5 per cent in the real term spending power of the FE sector by 2019-2020. Those opportunities do, however, come with a caveat. What was made clear is that instead of colleges just being given cash, as has happened in the past, there is to be a greater focus on colleges earning it. It was a settlement which, above all, gives opportunity, but without any guarantees.

The letter seems to offer up a compelling proposition for FE colleges across the country – namely, that if we want the cash, we can get it, but that it won’t just be doled out. One key strand is that funding decisions will be placed in the hands of those who will benefit from the services received. Under the settlement that will mean businesses will get to choose where their apprentices are trained, and individuals will decide the provider they feel can offer them the best course. It means that colleges will now have to work harder to sell their courses, bringing a more commercial edge to the provision of further education. The end result will be that colleges which aren’t providing the right type of training will ultimately struggle as they’re started of cash, while those which work to deliver high-quality, community relevant training will reap the benefit of greater funding.

The funding settlement was full of opportunity, but no guarantee
In the letter, Nick Boles described it as a “funding settlement to enable profound change to our system of further education” stating that it would put “more power in the hands of service users, instead of service providers.” It means that there will be a need for colleges to build partnerships – if they don’t already have them – with local businesses, strengthening their ties to the local economy so that they can adapt and respond to a changing skills landscape. The colleges which will thrive in this new funding regime are those which are adaptable and can appeal to their service users. It’s certainly won’t be easy for colleges being asked to react to this ‘profound change’ to FE, and for many it may prove near enough impossible. But that demand for change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. History is littered with examples of some of the finest innovation in a variety of sectors during the toughest times, with the strongest organisations managing to forge a path even during lean periods. The FE sector may, as a result of this settlement, see some colleges begin to take the opportunity to really innovate in what they deliver to ensure they provide those local service users with what they want and need. We are always seeing providers react to changes and taking advantage of new opportunities which have opened up, with many thriving.

So as we march into 2016, it’s time to see FE start making these changes, embracing the new systems in place, innovating and ultimately remaining a driving force for our local communities and the engine room of their economies.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

A new blog, for the New Year

As we roll into 2016 full of excitement for the year’s going to bring, I thought it was about time to start a blog to let the world know my unedited views on all the news from the FE sector.

Most of us kickstart the New Year with resolutions, and this year mine will be to keep you all updated with my views fresh from the world of further education (FE). It’s a sector I’ve grown passionate about since beginning my career in FE in the late 90s. I love watching the College’s students grow, and seeing them get the skills they need to find themselves a decent job and become productive members of our local communities.

Along with seeing countless pupils lives transformed, I’ve watched with delight as East Kent College has grown. From one campus, the College has grown to three, providing good quality education covering the east coast of Kent. The campuses themselves, at Broadstairs, Dover and Folkestone, have also grown as investments have been made in large capital projects.
New Year, new blog from me, Graham Razey

As someone who’s passionate about the sector and the very many lives East Kent College is able to touch, I decided that I wanted to give my opinion on FE, and the many changes it is witnessing. This blog will hopefully give you an insight into my views on the sector and what I believe needs to happen for colleges across the UK to flourish and continue the life changing work they do for their communities.